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AMANDA LANNERT ’94, PRESIDENT OF JELLYVISION, IMPROVES COMMUNICATION BETWEEN COMPUTERS AND USERS

Ever feel that you and your computer just aren’t communicating with each other? A company headed by Amanda Lannert ’94 wants to help.

Jellyvision (www.jellyvision.com), which is responsible for the creation of the best-selling trivia game “You Don’t Know Jack” and its many sequels, attempts to change the way people and computers interact. The Chicago-based company’s educational and entertainment products use software that allows the machine, in a manner, to “talk” to the user.

This kind of innovation is what drew current president Lannert to Jellyvision in the first place; previously, she had worked in package goods marketing at a large advertising agency. “I was attracted to Jellyvision as a small, creative, fast-paced company,” she says. “It had real brands—excellent, national brands—and pioneering creative development.”

Lannert became president after only a year at Jellyvision, and her responsibilities include new business development, operations, human resources and marketing. “We try to do things in unexpected ways, using old and new media,” she says. “Our mission is to do nothing the straightforward, old-fashioned way.” In keeping with this goal, Jellyvision employs many comedians, artists and writers—“a funny group of people,” attests Lannert. The Jellyvision Web site proves the truth of her claim: Items on the history timeline include “Jellyvision saves cat from burning building” and “Jellyvision gets butt surgically reduced.”

One of the keys to the success of the company’s products (which, besides “You Don’t Know Jack,” include the home version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “Outsmart,” where players try to outwit computer-generated celebrities) is the Interactive Conversation Interface software better known as iCi. Lannert describes iCi as emphasizing conversation over typical Internet navigation; she compares it to her shopping trip to buy washer-dryer units, when she read many placards detailing each machine’s bells and whistles but could not find an actual human being to explain the advantages of one unit versus another. “There was lots of data,” she says, “but no customization.” iCi offers customization in the form of virtual characters like teachers, coaches and game show hosts who guide users through various activities.

Lannert anticipates iCi being used anyplace a machine may have data output, such as in a car or on a cell phone. “We’re creating the most robust voice XML experience to date,” she says, “which will allow people to talk to their computers through their phones.”

The immediate future for Jellyvision holds a new online version of “You Don’t Know Jack”—the first new version of the game since 2001—that has Lannert’s colleagues buzzing. “People are really invigorated,” she says. “The questions are hilarious.” Jellyvision is also producing a technological platform that allows other companies to create interactive conversations on their own: “It’s a more pervasive form of communication on broadband Web.”

Lannert finds it ironic that a former English major at a small liberal arts college is leading a company that sits at the forefront of technology. “But what we do is really about communication and writing, the ability to empathize and intuit,” she explains. “It’s very consistent with a liberal arts education.”

— Brenna McBride

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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